EDITORIAL: Outlaw child marriage in Missouri

Apr. 22—We hope Missouri lawmakers will be able to push through a measure this spring banning child marriage in the state.

The bipartisan team of state Sens. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Scott City, and Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, have driven this. They deserve the state's thanks.

Their measure would ban marriage involving anyone younger than 18, with no exceptions.

If this legislation passes Missouri would go from being one of the most backward, anti-child states where this is concerned to one of only 10 that have a full, no-exceptions ban on child marriage.

As hard as it is to believe, until 2018 Missouri allowed children as young as age 15 to get married — even younger if they had a judge's permission.

The Missouri Independent reported that the weak law made the state "an especially popular state for 15-year-olds to travel to be married."

That's not really what we want to see promoted in Missouri's tourism brochures.

After The Kansas City Star looked into this, exposing what amounted to a form of child abuse, lawmakers set the state's minimum marriage age at 16 as long as the child had the approval of one parent or guardian. But that was not enough.

According to the Star, "Before the 2018 law, 88% of minors who were married in Missouri were age 16 or 17, Fraidy Reiss, the founder and executive director of Unchained At Last, a nonprofit seeking to end child marriage nationwide, previously told reporters. The law, Reiss said, has failed to protect 88% of the people it was intended to help."

So this legislative session, Rehder and Arthur came back with a stronger bill.

Rehder knows what she is talking about. She was married at age 15.

"I can unequivocally say that this: It's a terrible idea and you're not old enough to make those type of decisions."

"I was very alone," Rehder added.

This is just common sense to us.

"We've heard from so many people who have endured a lot of trauma as a result of getting married at a young age and often having abusive relationships, or being forced to become pregnant," Arthur said. "There are all kinds of individual situations that have played out as a result of child marriage, but all of them in their own way are terrible and should be warning signs to us all, that this is no longer an acceptable standard."

We agree and urge Missouri lawmakers to push the state forward on this while there is momentum.